12 Symptoms of Your Psyche's Immaturity



Since the aims of the second half of life are different from those of the first, to linger too long in the youthful attitude produces a division of the will. Consciousness still presses forward in obedience, as it were, to its own inertia, but the unconscious lags behind, because the strength and inner resolve needed for further expansion have been sapped. This disunity with oneself begets discontent, and since one is not conscious of the real state of things one generally projects the reasons for it upon one’s partner. A critical atmosphere thus develops, the necessary prelude to conscious realization.  ~Carl Jung, CW 17, Para 331b

The mother bear is one of the most tender, nurturing, and fiercely protective mothers in the animal world. The first and most difficult lesson she teaches her new baby when they emerge from hibernation in the spring  is to stay hidden and quiet high up in a tree while she searches the forest for food. Soon the baby learns to stay in the tree until mother comes home and they are joyously reunited.

This goes on for about two years and then one day the mother bear trees her cub as usual. She goes out into the woods as usual. And she never comes back. It may seem cruel, but the good mother’s job not only is to protect but also to liberate. If she does not leave her cub when the time is right—a time roughly equivalent to adolescence in a human—and if the cub does not disobey the good mother by climbing down from the tree it will never survive to preserve the species.

We humans are like that cub. We began our lives as vulnerable, instinctive animals utterly dependent on Mother. She was the center of our universe and we had no choice but to submit to her, our caregivers, our teachers, our leaders because conformity to outer authorities kept us safe. In time we grew into adolescents with growing awareness of our egos and our agency. We believed we were thinking for ourselves and making our own choices. But most of the time we simply parroted what we’d been taught by others, claiming their preferences as our own and defending them with fervor. And when we found jobs and love partners and moved out of our parents’ homes, we thought we’d grown up.

But in the cosmic view of humanity’s history, our species is still in its adolescence. We may not be consciously tied to our mothers any more, but in the world of our psyche, our unconscious attitudes toward or against her still prevail and we have yet to take the hero’s journey to conscious individuation. How do we know we’re still in the tree?  Here are 12 symptoms:

  1. when things go wrong we proclaim our innocence while blaming our mother, father, partner, or someone else

  2. when we resent our mother for unresolved childhood grievances which govern our thoughts and behavior toward her instead of being able to forgive and love her as she is

  3. when we who are safe, well-fed, and comfortable resent our family for not serving our needs, our religion for not helping us change, and our government for not treating us fairly while taking no steps to rectify these situations on our own

  4. when we despise our flawed unworthiness and beg our gods to fix us instead of facing our inner realities and doing the necessary work to understand and heal ourselves

  5. when we’re afraid to listen to our own hearts, trust our own instincts, explore our own dreams, communicate honestly, and live our own lives in accordance to our interests, enthusiasms, and passions

  6. when we sulk, complain, and criticize others without accepting the responsibility for and consequences of our own negative attitudes and choices

  7. when our unconscious inner inertia prevails over our resolutions to change our toxic habits and attitudes

  8. when we want freedom, yet stay exactly where we are because conformity and familiarity are preferable to exploring the frightening unknown

  9. when we haven’t suffered the agony of making an original choice in the direction of our own hearts and passions

  10. when we can’t love ourselves or forgive each other

  11. when we resist changing our attitudes or values in directions that serve the greater good

  12. when we ignore the fears and fantasies that trap us in our trees

We are living in the twilight of the psyche’s immaturity. Those of us in the second half of life must accept responsibility for our part in contributing to the growing darkness. No one can save us but ourselves. We must leave our trees and become good mothers to ourselves, each other and the planet. If we cannot awaken from our dreamy fantasies and childish attitudes—if we cannot develop our own authority and speak the truths of our own spirits and souls with love, if we cannot face and deal with our disappointments, discontent, and fear of death, if we cannot live our own lives with the passion and joy we were born for—we will contribute nothing to the evolving consciousness which alone can birth a hopeful new dawn.


There was a time when time stood still as death.

I shinnied up the mast of an old oak, breezes

ruffling my boat’s leafy sail, floating

dreamily over an ebony sea. One branch

was a mustang. We raced through the West

herding cows, chasing rustlers in black hats.

A three-pronged fork was an eagle’s

aerie where I savored new books…

as I awaited my mother’s return.

There was a time when time stood still as

death: I played house in log cabins outlined

with fallen twigs, imagined mother inside.

Prepared pretend lunches of crushed acorns

and mud, swept dirt floors and tangled roots

with dead branches, covered beds with crisp

leaf quilts, napped beneath a shaded

canopy, mother-made for me…

as I awaited my mother’s return.

Once, time moved as slowly as a glacier

and waiting and pretending were enough.

Now time surges like a raging river;

my gut growls and I am hungry, restless

to leave this tree despite the father bears

who crave me and my heresies for lunch.

But, oh, the bliss of frozen fantasy…

as I await my mother’s return!

How mature is your psyche?

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

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18 Responses

  1. ‘…the strength and inner resolve for further expansion has been sapped’ from CW Jung’s quotation .. I sense this is true for a great many of us Jeanie. The outer world is so draining of our energy. All seems pretty hopeless at times. What can we do to turn things around? How can we regain our hunger for living in a joyful way? Will we ever learn the lessons that we are charged to? Are we willing to? How long is this twilight of our adolescence going to last? I’m just asking questions and wondering about my own responses as I type them –
    Will we ever be aware of our individual responsibility to take charge of our own lives and put away childish things? Can we acknowledge our resistance to change and risk breaking free of conformity and complacency? Can we light the fire from within and take on our lives again as a bright spark?
    You have articulated and summed up all that in us in your 12 steps. I love the poem – since there is no name attached to it, I assume it’s yours? Unless it’s the bear up the tree? Thank you very much indeed! It’s lit a fire in me ..

    1. Hi Susan,
      I like the way you think and ask questions. Sometimes a good question is all it takes to light a fire. 🙂
      I just read a quote from Jung a while ago. I can’t find it now. In writing about kundalini energy he said something like there needs to be some spark, some powerful need, some personal characteristic or need so strong that one simply cannot stop searching for their true selves, even if they come up against the Leviathan— the monster we fear in the sea of the unconscious. I think he was saying that otherwise it’s almost impossible to persist: fear and lethargy and inertia will overcome us and we’ll stop.
      And since it was from his essay on kundalini, which I haven’t read (but I think the person who wrote the post cited pages 21-22—I’ll have to look it up), I assume that this kind of inner drive only comes with the evolutionary surge of kundalini energy, which simply comes to some and not to others.
      I hate to be that cynical, because I’d like to think anybody who really wants self-knowledge can attain it with enough self-discipline. But maybe that’s what he meant: nobody has that much self-discipline naturally. We need help from something beyond the ego. Religions call it grace.
      Well, at any rate, nobody knows where kundalini comes from so I doubt anybody knows how to get a surge of it! I suspect one trigger might simply be living with deep psychological suffering which comes from a painful crisis in one’s early years that separates one’s mind from one’s body and physical instincts and emotions, and which one would do almost anything to get rid of, even go so far as to explore the dangerous unconscious and ask the gods to teach him/her how to love. Because love and pain are powerful motivators, and love, the most powerful healer of all.
      I’m glad you love the poem. Yes, I wrote it. It’s been through several iterations. I even posted it in a post about 6 or 7 years ago, but I changed it for this post. I like this version much better! It’s closer to what I was trying to say….though I’m still not sure I know what that was…. 🙂
      Thanks so much for writing. It’s always so lovely to hear from you. I love your posts about Lilith on the A to Z challenge for April. I hope whoever reads this will check them out on your Garden of Eden Blog. Jeanie

      1. Thank you for your wonderful reply Jeanie! I’ve had to read it swiftly but will return to it again tomorrow. And to read the whole post and poem 🙂 It touched me deeply and made me think of something my mother said to me about my birth when I was asking her about my early childhood, while she was still alive and I wanted to know as much as I could that I didn’t remember or felt that there was a missing link …We’ve just arrived at the sea after flying down today.

  2. When I forget, I perch on all twelve of those branches, some more comfortable than others, 8 and 12 are particular favourites.
    The poem, I love, Jeanie … A kind of “Waiting for Goddess”!… The longing palpable especially the last stanza, the now, against the racing of the years…thanks for this gift.

    1. When I forget….I do the same. Still, as long as I have feet with which to perch, there’s always a chance I’ll take the next step.
      I’m honored you like my poem. And I like your title: Waiting for Goddess.This morning I read a quote from Baudelaire which immediately brought you to mind: “Always be a poet, even in prose.” Your comment began with an example, “When I forget, I perch on all twelve of those branches.” Thanks for that gift.

  3. Dear Jeanie, What rich, profound contemplations your article offers us today! “We must leave our trees and become good mothers to ourselves, each other and the planet.” Just excellent! I love the whole mummy bear and baby cub story, it makes so much sense as do your twelve ways of recognising that we’re still waiting (avoiding) in the tree! Loving your poem, most especially your end lines, “But, oh, the bliss of frozen fantasy … as I wait my mother’s return.” Your verse inspires me to “keep on growing up” and stay down from that darn tree! Descent for adults is mandatory, vital even, if we wish to grow in mind, body, spirit and soul.
    Yet how does one do this psychologically? As I’m writing, I’m thinking about “Ego” which often acts as if it’s “mummy bear,” the centre of the universe, and how those other parts of us feel they have no choice but to submit to its authority. Hmm, I can see how my refusal to take responsibility keeps me slavishly dependent! Although, it’s my ego that I choose to abandon (leave up the old oak tree!) when writing, otherwise I’m cursed by perfectionism … so I do know I can function with other parts of my psyche, it’s just that (annoyingly!) I forget this.
    Don’t get me wrong I always return to feed the ego, (just like mummy bear!) but today as I read your words I wondered if a day might come when the soul (the true mummy bear!) will also choose not to return and that my childish ego will have to climb down and fend for itself. And in doing so, the soul will liberate the ego. Perhaps this is what enlightenment looks like or at the very least when the second half of our life begins …
    Loved Susan’s inspiring and stirring questions! There’s so much treasure for all of us to unpack here. Thank you so much Jeanie for sharing these glittering jewels with us! For now I hope to remain a work in progress, where some days I know I will find myself, yes, back up that tree! My only saving grace is that it’s a much shorter stay in the treehouse these days. Warm and wild blessings, Deborah.

    1. Dear Deborah,
      Your comments are always lavish meals that nurture and leave me with much to chew on! You are another one I thought of when I read Beaudelaire’s quote this morning: (see my comment to Brian above.)
      I love your analogy of the ego being like the baby bear. Yes, exactly! It resists growing up with all its might until it has no choice but to trust the soul’s urgent order: “Grow up and live your life! Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s painful. But it’s so much better than the alternative!” And yes, that’s how the soul liberates the ego.
      I agree this may be what enlightenment looks like: seeing and following your own soul’s unique light… that, and realizing that your light is a small flicker in the universal light of One Enlightened Mind. But even an enlightened ego retreats to its treehouse from time to time. Thanks for adding more meaning to this discussion, which is beginning to remind me of a many layered cake!
      Warm and wild blessings to you too, kind poet. Jeanie

  4. From the perspective of all those on the receiving end of systemic injustice (now and historically), #3 doesn’t ring true. At all.

    1. You’re right. I had a specific group of people in mind and should have made that clear. A careless oversight. I’ve fixed it now. Thank you for the heads’ up. Jeanie

      1. Thank you, Jeanie. I was thinking when I left my comment how sometimes the only thing the oppressed have left are their voices. And sometimes not even that, only their imaginations, the knowing and remembering, if they still can.

  5. I seldom remember my dreams but I remembered last night’s. I’m in a house and there is a big, black bear trying to get in. First it is trying to get in the door and I am trying to keep it out…somehow the door opens a bit, enough for it to get it’s one claw in to open it further and the door is shoved open to push it out of the way and close the door, without injuring the bear. The next immediate scene is the bear has it’s big head in a window slightly smaller the it’s head so I can see it’s eye (generally, bears have small eyes, but in my dream, it’s eyes were slightly larger than normal). I was watching it, knowing that it could not get in through the window and then my dream faded away.
    I am doing a lot of inner work right now and found this quite interesting. My symbolic meaning for bears has been “healing” – so it made sense that I dreamed of the bear – but trying to keep it out seems like a mixed desire.
    I have been told ‘to grow up” and feel that I need to in some ways so it was a bit exasperating to read your post because it is such an expansion on this need. I also find it so interesting that you just wrote this the day before my dream! Of all the many links on Google, I find yours, and this very intricate explanation of what bears symbolize. My nature is … okay, I’m doing this but how can I dig in deep enough to allow that beautiful, strong maturity to rise up? It’s a tough place to be sometimes. Thank you for the wonderful blogpost !!

    1. Dear Annie,
      Thank you for writing and sharing your dream. I’ve recorded and worked with my dreams for many years as a means of acquiring healing, self-knowledge and growth and found them to be infinitely helpful. I believe the fact that you rarely remember your dreams but did remember this one is significant. This is an important dream for you, a “Big” dream. The synchronicity (meaningful coincidence) of finding my blog directly after having this dream is another sign that this is an important dream for you.
      In my experience, when I’m open or strong or hungry enough to take my inner life seriously and learn more about myself I will have a dream that I can’t forget. If I write it down and work on it, (i.e. note the emotions, ask myself when I had them in waking life recently, notice my associations to the symbols, etc.), I will acquire some helpful meaning. The more I’ve done this, the more certain symbols have recurred in ways that bring greater understanding and meaning to my dreams.
      When I first began writing this blog in 2010 I wrote a post about a very early dream in which I was trying to shut an elephant in a cave. That dream reminds me of yours. I’ve included the link to it below. You might want to check it out to see how I worked with it and what meaning I found in it. Just remember, your dream means what it means to you, not anyone else. I can’t tell you what your dream means to you, but knowing the associations others have for certain symbols can help trigger a meaningful “Aha!” for you. when that happens, you know you’ve hit paydirt.
      Also, you might be interested to know that my second book, Dream Theatres of the Soul, can be bought on Kindle at Amazon, and they may still have a few hard copies left as well. It describes how to work with dreams and includes the dream about the elephant, as well as many others which were very important to me.
      Another suggestion: I have a five-episode video series on YouTube which discusses how I work with dreams and what I’ve learned from them that you might want to watch too. The image of the elephant at the top of the sidebar just below my picture will take you to that series, which includes my elephant dream!
      In closing, let me just say that working with my dreams has been my single most valuable practice in my long journey to grow up. It’s wonderful that you want to work with this dream and I would highly recommend you start keeping a dream journal if you find this kind of inner work helpful.
      Sending you blessings on your adventure of Self-discovery. Jeanie

      1. Thank you, Jeanie,, i do see a number of parallels with the Elephant in the Cave post. It is amazing how some dreams stay with me and others not, this one being a strong one. Thank you for the book and video series suggestion as well. Not only is my dream calling for my curiosity and attention but also my dreams in general. Perhaps with more focus comes more recall. It was so generous of you to reply and share some guidance. Sending you appreciation! Thank you.

  6. Thank you, Jeanie. I’ll begin with your excellent list. Those habits of blaming others and wanting more than they can or should give are not easy to break. I wrestled with my Mother Complex for a long time. Surely my struggles and “not-enough” complex were my mother’s fault–or my grandmother’s. This resolved with conscious exploration and time. Since then, I’ve faced the world without “my mother/husband” who provided for me physically and psychologically–as I did for him. There was much mothering in our relationship, especially in the last years. I’ve been on the mothering side of life for too long (who gets to decide what too long is?). I sometimes hear a little voice within that whines, “Why me? Why do I have to be caregiver for a mother-in-law who has a Biblical lifespan?” I’m stepping back as I can, but that’s not always possible. She’s in the tree and I’m filling out the Medicaid forms and helping the nursing home find solutions for her frequent falls.
    Role reversal shows up when we are caregivers for the sick and elderly who need our protection–my mother, my husband, and now my mother-in-law. This mama bear role was easy with my children because they were growing and thriving and eager to leave the nest (like the bluebirds I watch through my telescope).
    I love this quote from Jung, especially: “Consciousness still presses forward in obedience, as it were, to its own inertia, but the unconscious lags behind, because the strength and inner resolve needed for further expansion have been sapped.” Like Susan, I also see this in a floundering political world. We’re exhausted with political chaos and ugliness. I can’t blame the one who pulls away and I’m grateful for the ones who stay engaged. I believe our engagement matters. Our local lives can shield us from the broader suffering of our culture and the need for radical change. Finally, I love the poem and remember–waiting for my mother, waiting for my husband, and now waiting for a friend. During my AZ vacation, I was little bear in the tree as my life-time friend nurtured me. What a gift!

    1. Thanks for all the wonderful examples and observations. Your honesty and persistence in facing your struggles squarely and doing the necessary inner work to heal yourself—not to mention your dedication to helping/mothering others—is always so inspiring.
      I love your comments about role reversal. Yes! Mama-bearing our children is so much easier and self-gratifying than doing the same for elderly loved ones.
      Another Aha came with your observations about how exhausting the recent political chaos and ugliness has been for so many of us. I’ve been struggling with the same issue myself. It’s made me much more vulnerable to stress…That old inertia has a very powerful pull on us when so much in our lives seems intent on bringing us down.
      And thank you for loving my poem! I’m a bit self-conscious about publishing my poetry, if I can call it that. My inner perfectionist is very hard on me sometimes. Still, I occasionally risk “singing my song” loud and clear anyway. 🙂
      I’m glad you got to be a little bear in the tree in Arizona. You so deserved that vacation……!!! May its effects linger in your body and soul for a lonnnnnng time! Peace, my sister

  7. This is such a timely post for me. The other day, I was hit viscerally with the realization that I am responsible for my own happiness. I know this intellectually, of course, but that “gut” realization was so strong. And your post put this into such beautiful words.
    Dreams have been coming fast and furious in the last month – sometimes it’s hard to keep up! I know there is growth happening, and it’s helpful to read your wise words and beautiful poetry. Thank you!

    1. Hi Pamela,
      I loved your comment, “I was hit viscerally with the realization that I am responsible for my own happiness. I know this intellectually, of course, but that “gut” realization was so strong.”
      Well said. Yes, that visceral gut realization brings us down to earth and into our own bodies, unlike our ideals and intellectualizations which are often just convenient escape mechanisms that keep us up in the tree away from our soul’s realities. I stayed there for many years before I understood that as far as my soul is concerned, my gut is much smarter than my ego!
      I’m so pleased to know this post was helpful to you, and thrilled to hear you’re attending to your dreams. Yes, there’s much going on in our unconscious of which we are unaware, but persisting in dreamwork brings huge rewards farther down the road when the time is right for our inner growth to enter our consciousness.
      Thank you for writing, and blessings on your inner work, Jeanie

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